Sunday, May 22, 2016

Notes from the Nagivator

It's just about a month before race day!  So much has been done and there is still a lot to be done. We've done some preliminary flight planning, looking at the route, but we'll do more once we arrive in Prescott and can look at the charts as a team. And, of course, there is weather to consider, and we can't do any planning there until a few days before race Start.

It's interesting being a racer this year. I have been able to help out with the race since 2012, in various administrative capacities. Now, I can finally add a few more puzzle pieces and get a better overall view of how everything fits together. I sat in on a conference call this week for the timers. I am amazed and totally impressed with all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into just this particular division alone. There are two women who have been coordinating the dozens of volunteers across the country who will be at the en route airports for several days to record the times and accuracy of each race team that performs the flybys at their airport. These two coordinators have invested at least 100 hours each during the last two months to ensure that everyone is trained, all the paperwork and equipment is sent out, and make sure everything flows smoothly. Then, there are the 6-8 volunteers at each stop that sit outside, at the timing point, for two to three days, waiting for the race planes. The first stop is more hectic than the following ones, because all of the planes will at least make it to that first stop on the first day. Some of the faster planes will continue on to the next stop, while the slower planes, or the ones with lower fuel economy, stop for fuel at each stop. The airports further down the route may have one or two planes come through the first day, with more the next couple of days. Sometimes, ten planes will come through in an hour, before a three-hour break with no one arriving or departing. And there the timers sit, sometimes out in the freezing cold or the sweltering heat, just waiting for a voice to be heard over the radio, announcing "Classic Racer ## is ten miles out!". Enough gratitude can't be said for these volunteers who give their time for us. But, we do say, Thank You to each of them. We may not be able to say it in person, as racers are not allowed to talk with the timers, but we will make sure we send out thank you cards to each of them.

That's about it for now. Next time, we'll introduce you to another division that makes this race possible. And we'll keep you posted as we head to the Start.  Thank you to each of you that read this. You are part of our cheering section and we appreciate your interest in our team. Thank you to all of you that have contributed financially, as well, helping to make this possible. Go Blackbirds!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Airplane Preparations

I'm so excited to be racing again! It's been 8 years since my last ARC as a racer, and my race preparations began basically as soon as our team registered. Team shirts and sectional charts have been ordered; the shirts look terrific! All of the sectionals are in; there will be a few that update as new editions become available before we leave for Prescott, AZ. The airplane's race numbers are complete, awaiting installation. My BFR and instrument currency are up-to-date, and I'll renew my medical in May. I feel like my racer prep is on schedule; so I've shifted my focus to prepping our race airplane, N4773S, a Cessna R182.
Airplane preparations are coming up to full speed. The last major maintenance, a 100 hour inspection, begins tomorrow. It has been scheduled for awhile and maintenance team is ready to go through our bird in detail. We chose to do the inspection a few hours before the 100 hour is actually due (we are about 6 hours early), to allow for any unexpected findings by the maintenance staff. Postponing the inspection until the last minute could make staying on schedule for the handicap flight difficult if a mechanical issue is discovered; a chance that we aren't willing to take. While I hope that everything is "ship shape," we'd much rather address mechanical issues in the shop while there is time to find parts and have them installed. A broken airplane on the way to the start could ruin our entire race!

Hopefully in a week or so, after the inspection is completed, I will update the airplane entry with new dates and tach times, to show compliance through the end of the race. I'll also upload the new Airworthiness Directive list for the inspection team to review. Once the inspectors give their stamp of approval on the dates and paperwork, we move into handicapping.

The handicap flight must be scheduled by May 1st and flown before May 15th. Before we can fly, there will be a complete spinner to tail cleaning and waxing. She must be her best for the handicap flight! Since Jo is in Florida, my mom has agreed to be her stunt double for the handicap flight, since they are the same weight. Our handicap pilot will be in Donna's position, copilot, and must match her weight. If all goes smoothly with the inspection, we should be handicapping by the end of April. That will give us time to work around the handicap pilot's and my crazy schedules and reschedule the flight a couple of times due to unsuitable weather. Fingers and toes crossed that everything goes as planned!

Stay tuned for more details on how our team is getting ready for ARC2016 and thank you for your support of the Blackbirds!


Monday, March 14, 2016

97 Days and Counting!

We are under the 100-day mark and there is still so much to do.  We have already registered our team and our airplane, but now the real work begins. 

Hotel reservations have to be made, not only at the Start and Terminus, but, also, en route.  Of course, we only know the places we CAN stop for an overnight, not not where we WILL stop.  That will be decided, most probably, the day before.  And it will all depend on the weather.  We know how far we CAN go in one day, but will the winds cooperate?  If we have a head wind, we will go slower and not make it as far in one day.  If we have a tail wind, we will go faster and cover more ground.

Which leads to flight planning, a big task by itself. The race covers almost 2,400 nautical miles, crossing over 11 states, and has to be completed in four days.  We also have to plan to get three team members, from three different corners of the country to the Start.  We have to decide what the best altitude will be to fly, based on the winds and other factors; we have to calculate fuel burn for each leg; and we have to determine which stops to get fuel and which stops to overnight.

In addition to flight planning, we are required to take safety courses that are applicable to the current year's race.  This year, we have to do two out of four of the following: Mountain Flying (because the race starts in Prescott, AZ and heads to Albuquerque, NM); Runway Safety (because anytime you have 55 planes all moving about the airport environment, you need to be aware and alert); Weather (no explanation necessary!); and Airspace (because most of the Stop airports are in controlled airspace and we need to know the rules).

The next item on the checklist will be the airplane.  Lara has submitted the ADs (Airworthiness Directives) for review, to make sure we have complied with all the FAA notices.  Lara will also be flying the handicap flight in the next month or two.  I'm sure she'll be posting about her experiences in this area.  Since she has a lot on her plate, as CoPilot I may need to remind her.

And, of course, all of this requires money, so we are also in the process of sending out sponsor letters. If anyone who would like to help us cover our expenses, we would be glad to accept the donation.  Even if we just have the largest cheering section following along, we will be thrilled!

More soon.  Thank you for supporting Classic Racer 71 Blackbirds!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Meet the Team!

Lara Zook Gaerte is our team Pilot and is from Fort Wayne, IN.  She holds numerous ratings, including single engine (land) and multi engine (land), instrument, and ATP (airline transport pilot). She has complex, high performance and tailwheel endorsements, and is also a skydiver.  She is a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) for both single and multi engine planes, including instrument instruction for both. She is a five-time Master CFI, a FAASTeam (FAA Safety Team) representative, and is the current President of the Air Race Classic.  She has over 8,000 flight hours and has flown in 5 of these races.

Donna Harris is the team CoPilot, from Lake Havasu, AZ.  She is the rookie of the team, this year being her first time participating in the Air Race Classic.  She holds a single engine (land) rating, as well as her instrument rating. She has complex and high performance endorsements, and is the current Treasurer of the ARC.

JoAnne Alcorn is the Teammate, from Winter Haven, FL. Jo holds FAA ratings for single engine land, single engine sea, and multi engine land, as well as her instrument rating.  She has her complex, high performance and tailwheel endorsements.  She is also an Advanced Ground Instructor, for both basic and instrument. She has flown in 7 ARC races and has 1,800 flight hours.   Jo is the current Vice President for the Air Race Classic.

Welcome to our Blackbirds Blog!

This blog is about racing in the 2016 Air Race Classic, an all-women transcontinental air race that has roots back to 1929 when Amelia Earhart, Pancho Barnes and several other women pilots started the very first all-women air race.

Our team is #71, thus, the Blackbirds, after the Lockheed long-range strategic reconnaissance aircraft.  We chose this number for several reasons. Since the team makes up three-quarters of the executive board of the Air Race Classic, we wanted to be the last one to leave the Start, just in case an issue came up that needed us.  We also wanted a number that would fit easily on the cowling, the outer cover of the engine.  All planes will have the team number placed in the same location for easy spotting by the timers on the ground.  More on all this in later posts!  With the chosen team number, it was a natural choice to have "Blackbirds" as the team name.  And, as we go screaming (the engine, not the team!) across a timing line, the timers can say, "Bye Bye, Blackbirds!"

Thank you for joining us on our journey to the Start and, hopefully, to the Terminus.  Please feel free to add comments or email us.  We hope you enjoy our travels.